Depth is at a premium.
The Panthers have only 12 girls and six boys, which is believed to be their lowest turnout ever. The program piqued in total numbers (43) in the 2008-09 season with 26 girls and 17 boys. Last year, it had 18 girls and 15 boys.
Seniors Shelby Snow, Kaya Wearsch and Jenna O’Dell aren’t down on their team’s luck — far from it. They’re upbeat about the direction of the program under new coach Rich Szczepinski.
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Szczepinski replaced Jack Dibee, who resigned March 31 after eight years at the helm.
“The numbers aren’t what they have been in the past, but with the new training regimen I like the direction of the program,” Snow said. “We have two training groups for the team. The more advanced group trains eight times a week, the other trains five times a week.”
Elyria Catholic trains at the French Creek YMCA in Avon. The Panthers had trained at Oberlin College since February 2007 after the Elyria YMCA on Washington Street abruptly closed its doors for good.
“Many of us did strength training and conditioning twice a week over the summer,” Snow said. “This is by far the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
In the offseason, Snow trains with the Vermilion Torpedoes USS club team coached by Al Lacko, her grandfather. She has competed with the Torpedoes since the sixth grade.
“We all miss Jack (Dibee). We were like family as a team for three years,” Snow said. “But we definitely do like Rich a lot.
He makes the workouts so that you want to try hard. He encourages us a lot. It’s a no-nonsense kind of thing. He doesn’t put up with very much. You know you have to get in, do your stuff and not goof off. I personally really respect that because that motivates me to work as hard as I possibly can.”
Wearsch also likes what she’s experienced thus far.
“Right now we’re just focusing on our strong points, throw that in all together and work together to make us small but mighty,” Wearsch said. “We’re going to be all right.”
The largest season turnout for girls was 29 in 2004-05 and 17 for boys in 2008-09. The last three years, the team has averaged 20 girls and 14 boys.
“We’re a lot stronger this year,” O’Dell said. “I think some people are underestimating what we’re going to come out with. I think we’re going to have a pretty solid team, especially going from four practices a week to 7-8 now. It’s going to change a lot.
“We’re training harder earlier in the season. I’m just excited for when we rest and taper how that’s going to turn out. I’m already hitting times now that I usually didn’t go until the beginning of January last year.”
O’Dell is the Elyria Catholic girls captain. Wearsch is co-captain.
“Rich has brought some new training techniques and different ways of training,” Wearsch said. “We have a nutritionist, too, so many good things. I’m really looking forward to the season, doing what I need to be doing and pushing myself that extra step.”
Mondays through Thursdays the team practices from 6:15-7:45 p.m. The team also practices Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings. The team does strength training on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Szczepinski doesn’t appear overly concerned with the low turnout, either.
“When I took over SUA (Toledo St. Ursula Academy), the team dropped down to 11 girls,” said Szczepinski, who coached the Arrows from 2008-12. “The next season was 23, then 36, then 46. Anytime there is a change, some kids fear the change and drop out. Once word spreads, numbers will grow. Plus with two excellent club programs in the area — Vermilion and French Creek, I am confident the numbers will grow.”
Szczepinski is also the director of competitive athletics at the Cleveland YMCA and head coach of the French Creek Marlins, the Avon YMCA team.
The Elyria Catholic girls team has quite a tradition with relays. The Panthers have qualified at least two relay teams to the Division II state meet each season from 2005-06 through 2010-11. Six of the 12 relays earned all-state recognition (top 16). Last year, the Elyria Catholic girls came up just shy in the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays out of districts.
The Panthers girls finished in the top eight at state three times — 5th in 2006, 6th in ’07 and 8th in ’08. Last year was the first time since 2002-03 that the Panthers didn’t advance at least one individual to Canton.
Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.